UK boxing’s civil war – Bitter barbs, contract battles and the £25m rights deal

Sky Sports snapping up the rights to Anthony Joshua’s clash with Oleksandr Usyk is their latest move in their bitter battle with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and DAZN.

The deal – worth around £25million – has yet to be officially announced by Saudi Arabia, who own the rights, but Hearn has already had a dig back at the broadcaster.

Hearn – quite rightly – has pointed out Sky will struggle to break even on their investment in the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight title fight.

READ MORE: Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk rematch to air on Sky Sports in £25m deal

But the power play by the broadcaster was not just about making money. It was about trying to striking a blow against Hearn and DAZN, and landing a fight which will draw in up to 1m viewers.

Hearn had just orchestrated a £100m deal for Joshua to sign with DAZN in the UK and leave Sky.

But a week earlier, he had completed the site fee agreement worth £68m with Saudi to stage the fight in Jeddah. That included the TV rights, delaying the start of Joshua’s DAZN deal.

Is Sky tussling it out with Eddie Hearn good or bad for British boxing? Let us know in the comments section

Saudi officials were not happy the DAZN agreement was announced. They felt it was a move to force their hand into giving DAZN the fight.

It meant for terse negotiations with the streaming giant for Joshua’s fight with Usyk. Eventually, Sky won out.

It’s 13 months since Hearn made the decision to end a long-term agreement with Sky for Matchroom’s boxing coverage. Sky, initially, were disappointed but parted on good terms. At one point, Sky chiefs considered walking away from boxing completely.

Then it all changed when Hearn started openly criticising the channel’s production and dedication to boxing. Ears were pricked at Sky HQ. A team was given instructions to build a new boxing promotional powerhouse.

They eventually teamed up with Top Rank in the US and brought in Ben Shalom, a rookie promoter in the UK, while sports media guru James Elliott was consulted to take on Hearn and the streaming giant.

It has been in the UK where battle lines were drawn. Sky and Boxxer made big plays for last summer’s Olympians.

The main target was Ben Whittaker, the silver medallist from Tokyo at light-heavyweight, and Sky got him with an offer understood to be worth seven figures and ‘unmatchable’ according to some at Matchroom. The others were split among Sky/Boxxer, Matchroom and Probellum.

But there have been tussles for fighters under contract at Matchroom, too. The latest is Lawrence Okolie.

The WBO cruiserweight champion is disillusioned with working with Hearn and wants to go to Sky and Boxxer.

But a move from the latter, saw Hearn send a legal letter warning them that Okolie is still under contract. It’s not the first time this has happened in the last 13 months.

Even as Hearn spoke about his new deal with DAZN last summer on a sun-soaked day at Matchroom HQ in Brentwood, inside the building letters were being drafted to be sent to lawyers about fighters being approached under contract.

The war began then, the bitter battles continue but will there be a winner?


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